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In the News - Friday, April 16, 2010

 

—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

—JAZZAFFAIR 2010 photos (PDF)

 

Jessie Bequette, centenarian,

member of WHS Class of 1924

1906 ~ 2010

  Jessie Agatha MacKinnon Bequette died peacefully Friday, April 9, 2010, in Visalia. She was 103.
   Visitation will be today (Friday, April 16) from noon to 7 p.m. at Salser and Dillard Funeral Chapel, 127 E. Caldwell Ave., Visalia. A graveside service will be held Saturday, April 17, at 10 a.m., at Three Rivers Cemetery.
   Jessie was born September 11, 1906, in a small apartment above the Pollasky Depot in Fresno to John and Bessie MacKinnon. The next year, the family moved to Saskatchewan, Canada, where Jessie’s father homesteaded a wheat farm.

  “My mother later told me that the winters were so cold there that the milk would freeze when it was rushed from the barn to the house,” said Jessie in a 1994 interview with John Elliott.
   In 1909, the Bequettes returned to Three Rivers. They lived with Jessie’s maternal grandparents, Walter and Sarah (Higgins) Fry, just up the road from where the MacKinnons’ house was being built. The following year, the family moved into their new home.

  “It was the nicest one in Three Rivers, and I think the only one with an inside bathroom,” said Jessie.
   The home was destroyed by a wildfire in August 1914. Tragically, Jessie’s father perished in the blaze while trying to save the family piano, John’s wedding gift to his wife.

  “My mother, pregnant and too depressed to stay in Three Rivers, moved to Tulare with my younger sister Edith,” Jessie said. “That was the time, when I was seven years old, that my grandfather took charge of my upbringing.”
   That same year, Jessie’s grandfather, Walter Fry, had been appointed the first civilian superintendent of Sequoia National Park. He had served there as a ranger since 1901.

  “Some of my fondest memories are the Sequoia Park inspection tours made on horseback as a youngster in the company of Grandpa Fry,” recalled Jessie. “Each summer, we would start up the South Fork, crossing Hockett Meadow northward via the Tar Gap trail to the Montgomery cabin in Mineral King. After leaving Mineral King, we returned via the Mineral King Road. I guess I traveled those park trails nearly every summer since I was nine years old.”
   Jessie also recalled her first trip up the Colony Mill Road, the original access road to Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park prior to the opening of the Generals Highway in 1926. She was a passenger in her grandfather’s Model T Ford, which Walter Fry had mail-ordered and then learned to drive in his rolling 40-acre pasture behind his home (near present-day Hawk Hollow Drive).
   Jessie had fond memories of living with her grandparents. She described the home as “the heartbeat of Three Rivers” and remembered the parties and dances that were held there.

  “The families came at nightfall in their buggies and buckboards,” she said. “Everybody would dance to the music of the banjo, fiddle, and guitars. Around midnight, the aromas of fried chicken, baked ham, chocolate cake, and apple pies would let everyone know it was time for supper. Then it would be back to dancing till daylight.”
   From 1912 to 1920, Jessie attended Sulphur Springs School. As Jessie lived on the east side of the Kaweah River, walking to school entailed crossing a footbridge, which was located just upriver from the present-day Heart’s Desire gift shop. The red school building with its telltale bell tower is today a private residence, located just across the Airport Bridge on Kaweah River Drive.
   When Jessie and her cousin Marjorie Fry (Fisher) were in eighth grade, they were hired as the school’s janitors. They were paid $12 a month.

  “Our first job each morning was to carry water from the river to fill a five-gallon crock at the schoolhouse because the school water tasted and smelled bad, like something rotten,” Jessie recalled. “I guess that’s why they called it ‘Sulphur Springs.’ Each student had their own mug that hung on a rack by the crock. As janitors, we swept up, stoked the woodstove, cleaned the chalkboards, and generally kept the place up. It was the first money I ever earned.”
   Four students graduated from that eighth-grade class and attended Woodlake High School: Jessie, Marjorie, Forest Grunigen, and Viola “Viva” Britten (Hallford), but Jessie was the only one who continued to live in Three Rivers during her adulthood.
   In the WHS Class of 1924, there were 25 students total. This class was responsible for first installing the “W” on Antelope Mountain overlooking Woodlake during their “Senior Sneak Day.” Subsequent classes maintained the landmark for nearly 70 more years until access was denied by the landowner.
   Following the installation of the “W” on that spring day in 1924, the classmates headed to Terminus Beach — then a public swimming area on the Kaweah River where the Terminus Dam is today — for a picnic. This is where Jessie met her husband-to-be Bruce Bequette, who had graduated from Woodlake High in 1919 and joined the festivities.

  “Six months later, I married that man,” she said.
   The newlyweds initially lived at the Pogue Hotel (present-day Lemon Cove Woman’s Clubhouse). Bruce soon got a job at Sequoia National Park where he worked on a botanical project that shipped thousands of giant sequoia seedlings for experimental planting throughout the world.
   Jessie and Bruce resided in Sequoia National Park for several years. They later relocated to the property on which the Three Rivers Historical Museum stands today and lived in the white house on the knoll just downriver.
   They built the building that now houses the museum and operated a gift shop, plant nursery, and service station from 1953 to 1967. When Bruce died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 1967, Jessie closed the businesses.
   The property remained unoccupied until 1975 when it was purchased by Jeanette Barton, Jane Cheney, and Nancy Campe and opened as Mountain Arts.
   Jessie was a charter member of the Three Rivers Woman’s Club (1924), Community Presbyterian Church (1938), and the former Three Rivers Lady Lions, where she received commendation for 13 years of perfect attendance. For 15 years, she also served on the board of directors of the American Cancer Society of Tulare County.
   Jessie was an anomaly in that she was a very proper lady who was soft-spoken, dressed impeccably, and always had her hair beautifully done. However, she was fiercely independent, well-versed in country living, and totally capable of caring for herself, her neighbors, and her home and property, which sometimes entailed wielding her shotgun, and she did that well into her 80s.
   The Woodlake High Class of 1924 met annually in Three Rivers for reunions from their 60th through their 75th. They were known locally as the “Woodlake 11,” as that is how many still survived, and they were celebrated for their longevity and unique bond of friendship.
   In 1993, Jessie left her little white house on the hill and relocated to Visalia to be nearer to her nieces. She spent the last few years at Delta Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

  “I just wish everyone could look back on their life… and be as happy as I am at this age,” said Jessie, when she was a spry 87. “Don’t ever underestimate Three Rivers. It is a wonderful place to live.”
In addition to her husband of 43 years, Bruce, Jessie was preceded in death by her siblings, Edith Perry, Thelma Manning, and Russel Weckert.
   She is survived by her nieces and nephew Joan and Paul Thomsen, Rachel Caggiano, and Pamela Thompson; and great-nieces and great-nephews Carla Caggiano, Gino Caggiano, Richard Webb, Perri Martin, Stacey Murphy, and Neil Thomsen.
   In lieu of flowers, Jessie requested donations be made to the Three Rivers Historical Society, P.O. Box 162, Three Rivers, CA 93271; or Community Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 685, Three Rivers, CA 93271.
   Condolences may be emailed to salserandddillard@aol.com.

River incident is seasonal preview

   The Kaweah River is a huge attraction for visitors and locals alike. This year, a better-than-average snowpack promises to bring a spectacular and extended season for whitewater rafting and river swimming.
   This annual attraction brings out-of-town crowds and even a criminal element, as proven by past year's river-related incidents. And if last Sunday’s incident is any indicator, riverfront property owners had better be prepared for the challenge of keeping their lands free of trespassers.
   The most recent incident occurred Sunday, April 11, when a carload of six people parked in front of OrangeRay (formerly Rosemary’s Remembrances) on Sierra Drive. At first, the four men and two women stood around drinking beer outside the car, perhaps sizing up their route to the nearby river.
   When they began moving toward the rear of the property to gain access to the river, the business owner, Wendi Morrison-Merritt, informed the group it was private property and they were asked to leave.
   At that point, Morrison-Merritt reported, one of the women in the group threatened the business owner with physical violence. Cooler heads soon prevailed and the group departed.
   The business owner immediately called the Sheriff’s Department. The six were tracked down and contacted by Deputy Al Brockman at the Edison swimming hole on Kaweah River Drive. After an identification check, one of the females was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

  “It is barely April,” Morrison-Merritt wrote in an email about the incident. “This town needs to come together firmly on this longstanding issue. It is unfair to expect shopkeepers, whose parking, property, ability to do business… not to mention lives… are being threatened and impacted by the aggressive illegal trespassing to gain river access.”
   Plans are already in the works to deal with this recurring issue at the Monday, May 3, Town Hall meeting. The agenda will feature both Sheriff’s candidates — Bill Wittman and John Zapalac — and further discussion on how to deal with trespassing at the river.

Woman found inside car trunk

at Lake Kaweah

   Reports that a young woman had been found locked in the trunk of a car parked at the new parking lot at Slick Rock Recreation Area caused alarm for some Three Rivers residents late last week. The excitement started on the morning of Thursday, April 8, when Sergeant Gary Hunt of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department violent crimes division began asking questions of locals who might have seen something suspicious.
   Detectives were summoned to the Slick Rock scene mid-morning after receiving a 911 cell phone signal. They inspected a car parked in the lot and heard noises coming from the trunk.
   Apparently, what they found was a Fresno State coed locked in the trunk of the car. It was reported that she was unharmed but the three police jurisdictions involved with the case have not released any details as to what actually happened.
   An officer from the City of Tulare Police Department confirmed that the woman was a Tulare resident and she had been reported missing earlier that day. Because she is a student at Fresno State University, the campus police are also involved in the investigation.

  “At this time, we have no evidence that the person locked in the trunk of a car was the result of foul play,” said Amy Armstrong, public information officer for the FSU campus police. “As far as we are concerned, no crime was committed and no charges have been filed.”
   Armstrong said the lead agency in the case is the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department. As of Wednesday, Sergeant Hunt or Sergeant Chris Douglass, public information officer for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, had not returned phone calls requesting information in the case.

It’s all in the family:
New owners at Kaweah Marina


   If you’ve ever been to Kaweah Marina, it’s a sure bet you’ve met the Mehrtens. Dale and Joy Mehrten have operated the Lake Kaweah facility since the day it opened in 1964, and their daughter Jeanne has helped out since she was just small fry.
   In fact, the Mehrten family were early settlers of the area, with their ranch, which is where Dale was born, located near what is today Horse Creek Campground, When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) came to buy the land in 1959 to make way for Lake Kaweah and the Terminus Dam, Dale’s folks were willing to sell.
   Realizing their bargaining position, they arranged with USACE to have preference on the marina concession as a condition of sale. In 1962, the federal government sealed the deal and completed the new dam.
   With a 25-year lease locked in, Dale and his brother Ralph set about to build a family business, literally. With the ranch soon to be underwater, they built the original floating bait store and snack bar in Saugus before transporting it in sections to the newly created Lake Kaweah.
   In a single afternoon, the brothers assembled the sections and the Kaweah Marina was born. Even the original patio boats were handbuilt by Dale and Ralph. Since that time both the marina and the family have expanded and prospered.
   Countless memories have been made on Lake Kaweah. In 1978, a young Lake Patrol officer named Brad Howard took particular notice of Dale and Joy’s daughter, Jeanne. A romance ensued and Jeanne Mehrten soon became Jeanne Howard.
   Brad hailed from nearby Lemon Cove and soon began a 31-year career with the California Highway Patrol. Brad and Jeanne have raised four children and all have had a hand in the Kaweah Marina.
Over the past 46 years, the Mehrtens have served up bait, tackle, fresh-cooked burgers, snacks, and countless smiles to thousands of happy boaters and anglers. By 2006, Dale and Joy began having thoughts of retirement.
   Some things are just too good to change, it seems, and with no buyers coming forward, and Brad eyeing his own retirement from the CHP, it seemed a good fit to pass the business to the next generation.
   Brad and Jeanne officially took over the operation of Kaweah Marina on April 1, 2010.

  “We’re looking forward to it,” said Brad of continuing the tradition. “Jeanne is training with her mom to take over the bookkeeping. She has done sales, ordering, management, and more here for years so it will be a smooth transition.”
   With a fresh 25-year lease, the Howards will continue to provide affordable family recreation. In turn, Brad said, he hopes one day to pass the business onto his children.

  “This is a place where people can come and have a great time and it won’t cost them an arm and a leg,” Brad said.
   The Kaweah Marina offers food, cold beverages, ice, bait and tackle, fuel and a variety of boat rentals as well as 267 private mooring slips available for annual lease.
   For information or reservations, call 559-597-2526.

Lookouts wanted for fire season 2010

   Do you love nature and solitude, have an adventurous spirit and like the idea of providing a service to your community and public lands?    Well, if so, then volunteering as a fire watcher may be for you.
   The Buck Rock Foundation provides a volunteer lookout program that assists in the staffing of three fire lookouts in the Sequoia-Kings Canyon area: Delilah, Park Ridge, and Buck Rock. Not only do these lookouts have magnificent views of the High Sierra and giant sequoia groves, but they also look into many of our local designated wildfire “Communities at Risk” — Squaw Valley, Dunlap, Wonder Valley, Piedra, Hartland, Miramonte/Pinehurst, Badger, Wilsonia, and Hume Lake.
   On decent air quality days, Park Ridge can even see into Three Rivers and called in the first report of the Horse Fire near Horse Creek in 2004.
   Space is still available in the class of 2010 for interested folks who would like to donate time during the upcoming fire season to help staff local lookouts. The pay is lousy, the food depends on what kind of cook you are, exercise can not be avoided, and the weather unpredictable.
   But the views are incredible, the excitement sometimes unparalleled, and how often do you get a chance to do something this unusual and so important?
   This is a unique opportunity to give back to your community while getting away from it all. This is a small, devoted group of people from all walks-of-life with a common interest in maps, weather, wilderness, and “high” adventure. Volunteer opportunities exist for as many or as few days as one is willing to give.
   To learn more about the program and to find out if volunteering as a fire watcher is for you, attend the annual Volunteer Lookout Orientation on Saturday, April 24, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Hume Lake District Forest Service Office on Highway 180 in Dunlap. Call 336-9319 or e-mail buckrock@inreach.com to reserve a seat.
   This day is geared for new volunteers and people with a general interest in what it might be like to work in a fire lookout. It includes a morning session of general information and purpose, along with a front-line training video and guest speakers. The afternoon is filled with hands-on training of the tools-of-the-trade, weather observations and basic map reading.
   The second training will be on Saturday, May 8, at the Bear Mountain Library in Squaw Valley.
   For additional information on volunteering and local lookouts, visit www.buckrock.org.

Three Rivers Bread Basket:

A growing operation

   The Three Rivers Bread Basket has partnered with Foodlink for Tulare County! As an official Foodlink Pantry, we will be able to offer dairy and meat products as well as USDA commodities, in addition to what we already distribute.
   We are very excited about this new venture, but it also means that we need more help.
   Three Bread Basket requires several teams to keep it running. Please consider volunteering to be a member of one of the following teams. (Time commitments are minimal!)
   Foodlink Delivery Processing: WHEN— The fourth Tuesday of each month in the afternoon. HOW LONG?— 2-3 hours each time. WHERE— Three Rivers Arts Center. JOB DESCRIPTION— Help to unload food delivered by Foodlink; stock shelves in the SeaTrain.
Pantry Distribution Setup: WHEN— The second and fourth Tuesdays of each month in the afternoon. HOW LONG— 1-2 hours each time. WHERE— Three Rivers Arts Center. JOB DESCRIPTION— Set up tables and set up food for packing and distribution.
   Food Distribution: WHEN— The second and fourth Wednesday of each month. HOW LONG— From 7:30-10:30 a.m. WHERE—Three Rivers Arts Center. JOB DESCRIPTION— Pack bags and boxes during distribution hours.
   Foodlink Letter Carriers Carriers Food Drive: WHEN— During May 2010. JOB DESCRIPTION— Pick up food donations at Three Rivers Post Office daily and deliver to Three Rivers Arts Center.
   If interested in helping, contact Elizabeth LaMar at 561-4154 or Arlin Talley, 561-3385.

SFCC honors local WWII veterans


   The Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce’s final Hero Appreciation Months party of the year, honoring local veterans, was held at the Three Rivers Arts Center on Friday, March 26, with special guests Chris Selby and Guadalupe Sanchez from Fresno, Mobile Veterans Center readjustment counseling technicians, with their 39-foot mobile service facility who began interviewing veterans as soon as they arrived.
   Two honorees unable to attend were longtime Three Rivers residents and former business partners Bill Hart and Vernon Dixon. Bill had served in the Merchant Marine during World War II while Vern was in the U.S. Navy.
   Vern later revealed that he was a motor machinist on a troop transport during World War II. In 1945-46, he made four trips to the Philippines transporting army personnel and their landing crafts.
Norman Polly of Lemon Cove also did not attend the party but sent a pre-recorded video. Norm served in Army Intelligence in the Pacific and landed at Japan ahead of the surrender to prepare for the arrival of the Army of Occupation.
   According to Norm, “If it hadn’t been for Emperor Hirohito, the Japanese would have fought to the last man and Japan would have been annihilated, but we would have lost anywhere from 500,000 to a million men on the assault, because the first thing we did was tour their defense system, and it was totally intact…

  “A lot of people say President Truman should not have dropped the atom bomb. If he hadn’t dropped it, we would have probably lost close to a million men, because I had access to some of the secret documentation and President Roosevelt had thought the Russians were going to help us, and the Russians, they replied that they did not have the manpower, so it was our task force...

  “When MacArthur signed the surrender, I was probably just 50 feet from there, watching that. And I was only 21 years old and probably didn’t realize the significance, but it was quite a historic sight...”
Veteran/honoree Walter Aguilar of Three Rivers was in attendance. Walter volunteered to fight in World War II and flew B-25s. It was 1940 and he was 19 years old. America was not yet officially at war.
His unit was called the American Volunteer Group, also known as the Flying Tigers. Walter was injured while fighting with this group, but he says there were no Purple Hearts back then. He still has scars on his legs and shrapnel in his face.

  “Every veteran with whom I’ve ever spoken say they are not a hero, but [so-and-so] is a real hero,” said Leah Catherine Launey, organizer of the Hero Months and events. “The truth is, each person who serves during wartime is an important part of an enormous support system. Some see more combat than others. Some carry emotional scars. Some carry physical scars or disabilities. Some give their lives. No one knows, really, where they will be sent or how they will be asked to serve, but each does serve, and each deserves an enormous thank you from us in return. They are heroes, one and all.”

WHS wants you:

Veterans Honor Day this month

   Local veterans from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan are invited to be guests of honor at the sixth annual Woodlake High School Veterans Honor Day. The event will be held Friday, April 23, at the Woodlake Memorial Building.
   The event will begin with a complimentary continental breakfast at 8:45 a.m. At about 9:40 a.m., the students will arrive to visit with veterans and view their mementos. Following the event, veterans will be guests during a special lunch that is scheduled to begin at noon.
   To participate in the event and make a difference in the lives of students, call advisor Scott Hernandez, 564-3307, ext. 193, or email shernandez@woodlake.k12.ca.us.

Family Farm Fresh offers

sweepstakes contest

   Become a fan of Family Farm Fresh’s Facebook page and be entered into a drawing to win various prizes, including two months of free deliveries in Tulare County of fresh produce. Bob McKellar, owner of Family Farm Fresh, which is based in Ivanhoe, has promised to donate $1,500 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sequoias when 3,000 new “fans” enter the contest on the FFF Facebook page.
   Family Farm Fresh is a Community-Supported Agriculture organization that is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month. Nearly 40 local farmers are involved during the year to supply locally grown, fresh fruit, vegetables, and farm products to members delivered weekly throughout Tulare County, including Thursday deliveries to Three Rivers.
The company uses its Facebook page to connect with customers and others about the benefits of CSAs while also sharing recipes, updates on basket contents, and customer comments.

 
THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
(559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118
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